Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.



PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron & Elsewhere


June 30, 2017

Environmental Law & Policy Center Pushing Back Against Trump Administration’s Executive Order “Review” of Marine Sanctuary Expansions in Lake Huron and Elsewhere 

 “Efforts to Scale Back Only Fresh Water Marine Sanctuary is Misguided”



ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said in response to the Trump Administration’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy Executive Order that directs the U.S. Commerce Department to “review” the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other designations and expansions of National Marine Sanctuaries:

“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.

“Shrinking the protected area of the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is yet another Trump Administration attack in its War on the Great Lakes and should be stopped in its tracks.

“ELPC will work with bipartisan partners across the region to oppose the White House’s War on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes is a national treasure that provides fresh drinking water to 42 million people and represents 21% of the world’s fresh water supply.“




Toledo Blade: US EPA Won’t Push Ohio to Declare Lake Erie Impaired




Feds Won’t Push State to Declare Lake Erie Impaired
By Tom Henry

Documents released today show the federal government won’t compel the state of Ohio to declare Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie as impaired, a move that environmentalists and Lucas County commissioners believe will hurt the lake’s future water quality.

And, in a separate-but-related matter, The Blade has learned through sources tracking Great Lakes issues that the Trump administration — when it releases its 2018 fiscal year budget plan at 9 p.m. eastern time tonight — will once again call for the elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which since 2009 has provided roughly $300 million a year in new money for water quality improvement efforts from Duluth to Montreal. Western Lake Erie – the warmest, shallowest, and most biologically active area for region’s $7 billion fishery – stands to be hit hard by that decision.

Documents released today show the federal government won’t compel the state of Ohio to declare Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie as impaired, a move that environmentalists and Lucas County commissioners believe will hurt the lake’s future water quality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency quietly issued a long-awaited decision regarding Lake Erie’s proposed impairment designation for Ohio on Friday, just days after environmentalists filed a second federal lawsuit demanding a decision one way or the other. By law, the agency was supposed to issue a ruling back in November.

The document and cover letter were made public today, drawing a swift response from a cross-section of environmental groups as well as Lucas County commissioners.

The letter was addressed to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler and signed by a former Ohio EPA director, Chris Korleski, who in recent years has been head of the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago. In January, Mr. Korleski was moved into the position of U.S. EPA Region 5 water director.

“In reaching its decision, [the U.S.] EPA has deferred to the State’s judgment not to assess the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie for the 2016 list,” Mr. Korleski wrote, referring to the state of Ohio’s list of impaired waters from last fall which fails to include western Lake Erie. He said the federal agency recognizes Ohio’s “ongoing efforts to control nutrient pollution.” Those efforts, according to critics, rely too heavily on voluntary incentives that are embraced in concept by the agricultural industry but not in practice by enough farmers.

The state of Michigan went the opposite direction in 2016, declaring its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie as impaired.

An impairment designation legally would set up the region for a more specific investigation into the sources of algae-growing phosphorus and nitrogen releases.

According to a statement from the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, the U.S. EPA “can’t have it both ways” by first agreeing with Michigan that the open waters of western Lake Erie are impaired by nutrients – then yielding to the state of Ohio’s opposition.

The trio of Democrats who comprise that county board described the situation as “foot-dragging by the Trump and Kasich administrations” that puts Toledo and Lucas County “in harm’s way.”

The Kasich administration has steadfastly said it can gain as many or more results with less regulation by sticking to voluntary incentives.

The U.S. EPA decision “preserves a status quo of insufficient action and lack of urgency in addressing one of the most vexing problems facing Lake Erie and the many people, communities, and businesses which rely on it for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life,” Frank Szollosi, a former Toledo city councilman now with the National Wildlife Federation, said in a joint statement issued by his group, the Environment Law & Policy Center, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Ohio Environmental Council, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the Lake Erie Foundation.

Environmentalists reacted with equal outrage to the prospects of gearing up for another showdown with the Trump administration over the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that has generated more than $2 billion for previously unfunded restoration work over the past eight years.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said he has learned about the administration’s latest proposal to end funding for the GLRI in fiscal year 2018, calling it “foolish and misguided.”

“What could be more basic than restoring the Great Lakes and protecting safe, clean drinking water?” Mr. Learner asked, referring to how the lakes are the raw source of drinking water for 30 million Americans and 10 million Canadians.


President Trump, end your shortsighted attack on the Great Lakes

President Trump, end your shortsighted attack on the Great Lakes

by Howard A. Learner and Mary Gade

CHICAGO, Illinois — President Donald Trump won the 2016 election in Ohio and several Great Lakes states, but he and his U.S. EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, are assaulting Great Lakes protection and restoration. They’re seeking to slash funding for the sensible Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million annually to zero. They’re rumored to be considering closing the U.S. EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago, which includes the Great Lakes National Program Office, and transferring its staff to Kansas. They’re rolling back Clean Water Act standards that protect safe, clean drinking water.

What are they thinking?  This tomfoolery is a head-scratcher, criticized by both Republican and Democratic leaders.

EPA Administrator Pruitt says he wants to get “back to basics.”  What could be more basic than protecting the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain the planet’s largest fresh water supply (21 percent), provide drinking water for 40 million people, provide a rich aquatic habitat and ecosystem, support a $7 billion annual fishing industry, and offer lakefront and recreational opportunities for millions of people.



Politico: ELPC Hires Janet McCabe, Obama-era Acting EPA Air Chief



Janet McCabe, the Obama-era acting EPA air chief who helped mastermind the Clean Power Plan and oversaw various other key regulations, will join the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center as a senior law fellow, she confirmed to ME. In an email to the ELPC staff yesterday, executive director Howard Learner notes McCabe will work part-time from her native Indianapolis starting May 15. Learner added: “These are extraordinary times, and we are adding top-rate talent to keep building ELPC’s ‘top of our game’ team to play both winning offense and defense. The best defense is a good offense. I am excited to be working together with Janet McCabe to play to win in the changed political circumstances.”


Crain’s Detroit Business: ELPC’s Learner Says Nuclear Power Expansion in Michigan is “economically uncompetitive”

Nuclear Power Expansion for DTE in Michigan is Long-range Strategy Option

By Jay Greene 
Staff Blog: Health care

Despite the Trump administration’s opposition to using the federal regulatory process to improve the quality of breathable air by mandating a reduction in carbon emissions, top executives of Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co. say they plan to continue to invest in renewable energy and replace 25 aging, inefficient and dirty coal-fired power plants over the next decade.

But Consumers and DTE have slightly different strategies when it comes to how they will replace the shuttered plants going forward. Both tell me they will invest millions in natural gas, renewables like wind and solar and energy efficiency programs over the next decade.

The difference appears to be that DTE wants to keep open the option of expanding nuclear energy generation — DTE’s Fermi 2 supplies 18 percent of its current electricity production — while Consumers has no future plans for nuclear after Entergy closes its Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert Township in the fall of 2018, pending Michigan Public Service Commission approval.

“We are not currently planning to build or purchase energy from nuclear plants. Our long-term supply strategy is to continue to develop low-emissions energy options with an emphasis on renewable energy, natural gas, and energy efficiency,” Brian Wheeler, a spokesman with Consumers, said in a statement to Crain’s.

On the other hand, Gerry Anderson, DTE’s chairman, president and CEO, told me recently that the state’s largest utility will hold onto its “cards” for the nuclear energy option. And why not? DTE spent $100 million in the six-year regulatory process to garner the Fermi 3 nuclear plant license.
Gerry Anderson
“We applied for Fermi 3 back in 2008 when oil was $120 per barrel, then the economic crunch hit and technology made it possible to increase shale gas (production) at lower costs,” said Anderson, adding that costs for such renewable energy sources as wind and solar also dropped substantially.

It is clear to energy and environmental experts that DTE had once planned to build and open a nuclear generating plant by as early as 2023.

Now, says Anderson, “We are looking at replacing our coal plants with natural gas and maybe in the mid-2020s” will take another look at nuclear again.

So after six long years, DTE was finally awarded a license in late 2015 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build Fermi 3. If built, it would be on the same site as the currently operating 1,170-megawatt Fermi 2 on the shores of Lake Erie near Monroe, about 30 miles south of Detroit.

Fermi 2 is also next to closed-down Fermi 1, an experimental breeder reactor that partially (1 percent) melted down in 1966. This event was 13 years before the even worse near-catastrophe meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Back in 2008, the estimated price for the 1,560-megawatt Fermi 3 plant was $9.6 billion, a figure that environmental lawyer Howard Learner expects will top more than $10 billion now.

Learner, like many environmentalists in Michigan, is asking the question: Why is DTE still considering nuclear?

“DTE has already sunk $100 million into this new nuclear plant that is economically uncompetitive in the Midwest and is highly unlikely to ever be built,” Learner, executive director of Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in an interview with Crain’s.

“DTE’s board of directors would be slammed by Wall Street if the utility moved forward with the Fermi 3 nuclear plant in light of the lessons learned from the ongoing nuclear plant financial debacle in two other states (Georgia and South Carolina),” Learner said.


ELPC Statement on Executive Order to Eliminate Clean Power Plan

Contact: Judith Nemes
March 28, 2017
(312) 795-3706
(773) 892-7494


Trump Administration’s Clean Power Plan Rollback “Will Move America Backwards and Reduce U.S. Global Competitiveness”
“Clean energy development is creating thousands of new jobs”


Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the White House announcement that it will reverse the Clean Power Plan that would help clean up the energy sector by reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

“The Midwest’s transition to clean, renewable energy is rapidly accelerating and is creating thousands of new jobs and reducing pollution,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “President Trump’s actions today would move America backwards and reduce U.S. global competitiveness in the growing clean energy business sector.

“President Trump’s policies will subsidize economically uncompetitive polluting power plants, will punish taxpayers, and hamper job creation at rapidly growing clean energy businesses. America should invest in creating more clean energy jobs for the future instead of President Trump’s heavy subsidies for the coal sector of the past.

“Economic progress in the clean energy sector is being driven by smart state policies, technological innovation and consumer preferences. President Trump’s policies are colliding with both technology advances and the public’s demand for clean renewable energy like solar energy and wind power.  The Clean Power Plan aligns federal policy to help drive technology innovations and pollution reductions through energy efficiency and renewable energy development.






James Linehan “A Life Lived Outdoors: A Memorial In Photographs”

Please join us for a photography exhibit opening reception

Thursday, April 6, 2017 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at ELPC

James Linehan

“A Life Lived Outdoors: A Memorial In Photographs”


Opening remarks will be provided by:
David Travis, Gallery Curator
Howard Learner, Executive Director,
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Please RSVP to Libby Prakel at
lprakel at elpc.org
or (312) 795-3709

Greenwire: ELPC’s Learner Says Environmentalists Looking to State AGs to Bring Lawsuits Against Polluters in State and Federal Courts

Tables are Turned as State AGs Set their Sights on Pruitt
March 1, 2017
By Amanda Reilly

Scott Pruitt, who sued U.S. EPA more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s chief legal officer, will likely soon find himself on the other side of lawsuits filed by Democratic attorneys general.

Democrats opposed to Pruitt’s efforts to dismantle President Obama’s environmental regulations are putting up their dukes.

“My office will stand firmly in the way if Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration threaten to gut the progress we’ve made in protecting our environment and tackling the dire impacts of climate change,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman pledged in a statement. “We won’t hesitate to protect New Yorkers — even if that means stepping up enforcement ourselves, and bringing litigation against the federal government — because too much is at stake.”

State attorneys general have already signaled a willingness to mix it up, as evidenced by litigation filed quickly last month over President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

“In the past, there wouldn’t be collaboration until a law was signed,” said Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University who studies state attorneys general. “Now it’s immediate. It provides the kind of frame that progressive and Democratic attorneys general are going to use during the Trump administration.”

Environmentalists say they are looking to state lawyers to be aggressive not only in suing the Trump administration but also in taking a bigger role in environmental enforcement and in filing environmental and common law actions in state courts.

They’re expected to build on the collaborations formed during the George W. Bush administration, which also took on a deregulatory agenda. During the Bush administration, Democratic attorneys general and environmentalists succeeded in giving EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision.

The case signaled the “birth of a new type of activism, trying to fight against the Bush deregulatory agenda,” Nolette said. “And I see that very much kind of coming back in vogue amongst Democratic attorneys general in the Trump administration.”

AGs to Watch

Attorneys general along both coasts will likely be key in leading the opposition to the Trump environmental agenda, legal experts said.

“If you’re an attorney general from California or Oregon or Washington, it’s relatively easier in terms of the very green constituency to be green all the time,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Emerging leaders include Schneiderman and Maura Healey of Massachusetts, both of whom are already heavily involved in the investigations of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s climate change activity. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who’s led the legal battle against the immigration order, is also poised to play a key role.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is also eyeing a bigger role in litigation against the Trump administration after Maryland’s Democratic-led General Assembly last month voted to approve giving Frosh blanket authority to sue the federal government. The prior law required the attorney general to obtain approval from the Legislature or governor, currently a Republican, Larry Hogan.

Frosh and state Democratic leaders said concerns about the future of natural resources, including the Chesapeake Bay, partly drove the push for expanded legal authority.

In California, Nolette said, former Rep. Xavier Becerra’s willingness to give up a leadership role in Congress to be state attorney general signals that the Golden State will play a more active role than it played with Kamala Harris as attorney general. Harris was elected to the Senate in November, and Becerra became attorney general in January.

“He’s a smart guy,” Nolette said. “He knows where the action’s going to be, and he knew that that position was going to be one in which he could advance progressive policy goals.”

While the action will be concentrated on the coasts, environmentalists are looking to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to join with coastal attorneys general in taking a pro-environmental position in litigation.

Madigan, who has served as attorney general since 2003, aligned with environmental groups to clean up the Chicago River and has signed on to recent coalition letters urging the Trump administration to uphold air and water regulations.

“For a Midwestern attorney general who comes from a coal state, she’s very good on clean air, clean water issues, pro-consumer protection and very involved in issues involving consumer finance,” Learner said. “She wouldn’t be the equivalent of an attorney general from California on the environment, but Attorney General Madigan has been a strong environmental leader.” 

Climate Change

One early case where state attorneys general could be key is the litigation over the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s landmark climate change rule targeting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

“Their roles are critical,” said Joanne Spalding, a senior managing attorney at the Sierra Club who handles climate change litigation.

The Clean Power Plan case is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If the Trump administration, which plans to eliminate the rule, drops its defense in court, Democratic attorneys general and environmental groups could continue to defend the rule in the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court.

“They’ve been active on the climate front. I see them as continuing to be active and helping to defend Obama regulatory initiatives,” Spalding said. “And they also have to really step up because if, as we are assuming will happen, EPA switches sides, it will be left to the intervenors to support the Obama EPA actions to defend those rules in court.”

Along with the Clean Power Plan, Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, said he also expected state attorneys general to jump into litigation over the consideration of climate change in major federal actions.

Under Obama, the White House Council on Environmental Quality issued a guidance instructing federal agencies to take warming into account in environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. President Trump could target that guidance through an executive order.

A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general led by Schneiderman also yesterday vowed to “aggressively” oppose the Trump administration’s efforts to unravel the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule, which clarified which streams receive automatic protection under the Clean Water Act.

While environmentalists expect to also file numerous suits against the Trump administration, states are “always valued plaintiffs” in litigation because they have an easier lift to show legal standing to sue, Gerrard said.

He pointed to Massachusetts v. EPA, where the Supreme Court granted plaintiffs standing because Massachusetts could point to miles of coastline that would be affected by climate change.

“The fact that a state was one of the plaintiffs made a big difference,” Gerrard said.

The ongoing immigration suit also shows that Democratic attorneys general are willing to lay out a wide variety of legal arguments against Trump administration policies and see what sticks, Nolette said.

“The kitchen sink is being thrown at it, every possible thing you can imagine,” Nolette said. “That’s another one of the advantages that the AGs have.”

Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center said environmentalists are also looking to state attorneys general to bring citizen suits against polluters and to bring lawsuits in state courts as well as federal.

Sabin Center’s Gerrard said state attorneys general may turn to state common laws in the absence of greenhouse gas regulations on the federal level.

In the 2011 case American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that national greenhouse gas regulation belongs in EPA’s realm. EPA actions, the court said, pre-empt litigation that attempts to curtail emissions through federal common law, such as nuisance lawsuits.

The opinion didn’t speak to using state common laws to litigate against emitters of heat-trapping gases, but nobody has yet brought such a case.

The Supreme Court “left open the possibility of state common law nuisance cases against greenhouse gas emitters even though the court said that that theory was not viable against emitters under federal common law,” Gerrard said. “We’ll see if any states try it.”

‘A Friend in Scott Pruitt’

Republican attorneys general, for their part, see an ally in Pruitt as EPA administrator.

“I sincerely believe West Virginia will have a friend in Scott Pruitt,” the state’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, said in a statement. “Scott’s principled approach will respect the law and reinforce the EPA’s core mission to protect our air and water without unconstitutional and job killing overreach, which has brought tremendous harm to West Virginia during the past eight years.”

In Oklahoma, where Pruitt sued EPA over various air and water regulations on the grounds that the federal government was usurping state control, Michael Hunter became the new attorney general as of Feb. 20.

Hunter most recently served as the secretary of state, a position he held after serving as first assistant attorney general under Pruitt.

His background also includes secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office, a $4 billion public land and investment trust in the state, and general counsel to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s public utilities and energy companies.

Under Hunter, the attorney general’s office will likely intervene in litigation brought by Democratic attorneys general where necessary to protect states’ rights, but it won’t turn into “some sort of energy activist organization,” said Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association President Chad Warmington, who has known Hunter for many years.

In general, Warmington added, “I don’t see that the EPA will be as much of an issue for him as attorney general.”

“I don’t anticipate that the Oklahoma attorney general’s office will wade into as many of these, if any, lawsuits against the EPA because we’ve got Scott Pruitt,” Warmington said, “who I think clearly demonstrated that he wants to have the EPA live well within the legal constructs set out for it by Congress.”

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WTTW Chicago Tonight online: ELPC’s Tamara Dzubay Explains Benefits of Expanding EV Fast-Charging Station Network in Illinois

Chicago Pushes Charging Stations as Electric Car Sales Rise in Illinois
March 1, 2017
By Alex Ruppenthal

Illinois set a high mark for electric vehicle sales in 2016, and Chicago hopes increased demand delivers a new batch of electric car charging stations throughout the region.

In February, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) hosted two webinars for those interested in opening fast-charging electric vehicle stations that would be available to the public in six northeastern Illinois counties (Cook, Will, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry).

Through its federally funded Drive Clean Station program, Chicago is offering grant funding to cover up to 30 percent of equipment and installation costs for new direct current (DC) fast-charging stations. Compared to residential-use stations that take overnight to fully charge vehicles, DC fast chargers supply a full charge in just 20-30 minutes.

Costs for fast-charging stations range from $80,000 to $100,000, said Tamara Dzubay of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Through July 31, CDOT is accepting grant applications from private, public and nonprofit entities that want to set up new fast chargers. Potential applicants could include rest stop operators, hotels and retail locations.

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